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Kentucky beats Tennessee State: 4 things to know and postgame banter

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The Cats hold off the Tigers to pick up win No. 5 of the young season.

Jason Marcum - Sea of Blue

The Kentucky Wildcats beat the Tennessee State Tigers Friday night, 77-62.

The Cats are now 5-1 with a five-game win streak. The competition has been sub-par, but this team is improving.

UK struggled on the offensive end, but we saw a lot of improvement tonight. The defense looked a lot better and Keldon Johnson finally got it going.

Johnson was unstoppable. He finally realized that at 6’7, he’s a match-up nightmare for opposing defenders. He is a prototypical wing and should be able to dominate every game like he did tonight. He did it all by attacking the basket, but just wait until he improves his outside shooting.

Reid Travis was the go-to guy when Kentucky desperately needed it. UK couldn’t score at the beginning of the game, so Cal brought Travis in and he scored two quick buckets to get the offense going.

In the second half, Travis continued to score whenever Tennessee State looked like they might go on a run. He is the glue that holds this team together.

All in all, there was a lot of good. The Cats still have their fair share of flaws and weaknesses, but they’re getting better. They are improving slowly but steadily.

Another slow start

The Cats got off to another slow start against the Tigers. 10 minutes into the first half, UK had scored 10 points. They struggled to score, whether it be against the Tigers’ zone or man-to-man.

By halftime, Kentucky had extended its lead to 35-27, but it was ugly. The Cats were 9-27 (33.3%) from the field in the first half, including 1-10 from three-point land.

So far this season, it’s been due to poor defense. Today, that wasn’t the case. The defense was better, but the offense couldn’t buy a bucket.

UK has got to come out ready to play on both ends of the floor from the jump. These kinds of starts aren’t going to cut it against good teams.

The defense was much better

It’s about time.

The defense wasn’t perfect, but it was a lot better than it was the first five games of the season. But then again, it couldn’t have gotten much worse.

One big reason for the improved defense was Tennessee State didn’t shoot many threes. Teams have been feasting at the three-point line against the Cats this year, but this team exploited a different weakness: points in the paint.

To be fair, the Tigers play three or four guards and they take what the defense gives them. They’ve been very perimeter-oriented this season and UK seemed determined to improve the three-point defense. While Kentucky’s defense kept them off the three-point line, though, the Tigers got whatever they wanted in the paint all night.

That’s a new concern, however, because Tennessee State is small. They took UK defenders off the dribble to the basket almost the entire game. If it isn’t one thing, it’s another.

But the defense was better. While the Cats struggled to keep their men in front of them, they did do a much better job defending the three. It’s a step forward and that’s all that matters.

This team is full of good, individual defenders. They just need to put it all together as a unit. Be patient. It’ll come.

EJ Montgomery is good

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: EJ Montgomery has the most potential of any player on this team.

What he does on the court goes beyond just the box score. His numbers, at the moment, aren’t going to blow anyone away. He isn’t putting up gaudy stat lines, yet. But he’s a problem.

Montgomery is long and athletic. He rebounds extremely well and has a super smooth touch. He can knock down free throws, as well as hit mid-range jumpers. He has all the intangibles NBA teams want out of a stretch-four.

But it isn’t just offense. He’s the rim protector Calipari has been missing for years. He blocks a lot of shots, but when he doesn’t he still affects them. That’s why his talent goes beyond the box score. And that’s why he has so much potential.

I can’t help but plead that EJ gets more minutes. He’s light-years ahead of Nick Richards. The two play similarly, but Montgomery brings so much more and does it so much better.

If Reid Travis is going to come off the bench, then EJ should be getting the start rather than Richards.

This is the best free throw shooting team Calipari has had at Kentucky

I can’t speak for all of Big Blue Nation, but one thing that has absolutely irked me and a lot of other people since Calipari has been at Kentucky is free throw shooting. Year in and year out it’s the same thing, which has been pretty bad.

Not this year.

This is the best free throw shooting team Calipari has had since he’s been at Kentucky. The two worst free throw shooters are Travis and Washington, but even those two have improved tremendously.

The Cats have a handful of players that they can feel comfortable putting on the free throw line in crunch time. Tyler Herro, Immanuel Quickley, and EJ Montgomery are all knockdown free throw shooters, just to mention a few.

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. Go Cats!